By Stephanie Carter
American Red Cross
Driving through Rushford, Minnesota can leave quite an impression. Heirlooms, photos, and furniture are stacked along the roadside, mud-soaked and molding. Bobcats and dump trucks are clearing the debris. The stench is almost overpowering. People are working hard to clean up after the flood. And the Red Cross is present.
Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) are driving up and down the neighborhood streets. Horns blaring announcing water and snacks available to anyone who needs it.
ERV driver Mike Welder is deployed from the Burleigh-Morton Chapter in Bismarck, North Dakota. He pulls over and knocks on Mr. and Mrs. Vier’s door. He knows this is an elderly couple who can not easily walk to the truck. He checks to make sure they are okay.
Red Cross volunteer and ERV passenger, Judy Welder hands Jerri Bellock snacks and cold water. Jerri is here for the Labor Day weekend helping her father clean the back side of his house. Her brother and sister also live in Rushford. Her brother lived in the trailer park located down the hill and lost everything. The front side of her sister’s home is severely damaged.
Judy encourages Bellock to keep the family talking about what happened, especially her elderly father, to help prevent depression.
The ERV continues on to the trailer park and meets up with Alfred Semerad. His trailer is a complete loss and before long, the city will require the residents to leave so demolition can begin. But until then, he visits his trailer four hours a day, recovering his “treasures.” He collects coins and arrowheads. “I dug the arrowheads out of the ground from all across the country. And now I’m digging them out of the muck from inside my trailer,” he said.
He’s wearing rubber boots which he received from the Red Cross. The boots are covered in mud. He says the smell is familiar because he “used to work in the barn barefoot.” Judy hands him several face masks.
Judy says, “We aren’t just fulfilling the need of these people but also a need within ourselves.”
At the time he was evacuated Alfred says, “I barely had time to grab my teeth. The water was knee deep and it was cold.”
He points to the water line on the side of another trailer – measuring about 8 feet.
Each day the Red Cross stops by. He says, “I’ve received some cash and food and high powered soaps and detergents. They’ve been really nice to me.”
He has attend local long term recovery planning meetings held by various community and faith-based organizations. The Red Cross has been in attendance as well.
Chet Blue is an AKAL security guard working for FEMA out of Rushford’s Old TRW building. The Red Cross Client Service Center is stationed in the same building. He has previously worked with the Red Cross as a medic and firefighter. He says, “This crew deserves the highest recommendation. They work 12-hour days and never complain. They make sure everyone is fed or has cold water.”
Chet continues, “Some nights, these guys are wrapping up and leaving for the night when someone will drive up and without hesitation they help them. I’m impressed by the compassion shown by all the Red Cross volunteers who are assigned to this disaster.”
He refers to Red Cross volunteer, Jim Bryan, also known as Santa. Chet relates, “On his only day off, Jim came over and picked up our uniforms and laundered them for us. He’s phenomenal.” Jim is only one of many volunteers he mentioned who “is making life easier.”
Written by Stephanie Carter, a volunteer with the Rappahannock Chapter of the American Red Cross assisting with the Minnesota/Wisconsin floods.